Following a canceled fall slate, women’s tennis rebounded this spring with a winning record and capped off the year with a semifinals appearance at the A-10 Tournament.
After going more than 11 months without competition, the Colonials resumed play in late February. The squad notched a 10-6 record, earning its highest winning percentage since 2012 and the No. 4 seed heading into the A-10 Tournament. With just nine players on the roster, head coach Torrie Browning said a key to the team’s success this year was the willingness of athletes to support one another and take on leadership roles.
“Everyone stepped up, whether you were more vocal or if you were just leading by example, I think everyone showed some leadership at one point or another, whether they thought they did or they didn’t,” Browning said.
Leveraging that mentality at the tournament down in Orlando, Florida, the Colonials bested division rivals La Salle and Fordham before falling to VCU April 30, marking the team’s most successful season finish since losing in the semifinals to Richmond in the spring of 2019. Armed with a mix of both veteran players and new additions, including three freshmen, Browning said the combination of talent culminated in a “special” team that had the ability to make a deep run.
One of those veteran players, graduate student Alexis Nelson, said she was “proud” of the team’s ability to bounce back amid the hurdles of the pandemic and succeed at the tournament.
“I think we did a really good job of just staying disciplined, and really being supportive of one another,” Nelson said. “That helped a lot, just knowing that we could trust our teammates and always rely on each other to be responsible and do the best job possible with everything.”
Browning said the team also had to adjust to the heat difference of playing outdoors in Florida. Typically playing indoors in temperature-controlled environments throughout the season, Browning said the switch could have created trouble for the team.
“We were not used to playing in high 80s, low 90 degree weather, which I don’t think a lot of the teams were,” Browning said. “So to be able to perform at that level in those types of conditions was really awesome, to see everyone really push themselves as best as they could.”
The looming anxiety that accompanied the pandemic and the potential for match cancellations was also difficult, according to freshman Stella Wiesemann.
“In a time like this there’s a lot of uncertainties and sometimes we didn’t know if the next match would get canceled,” Wiesemann said. “At the beginning of the semester, we had issues with that, and other teams obviously had difficulties too, so just having this kind of uncertainty was a little bit challenging.”
The team endured cancellations against Loyola University Maryland March 17 and Fordham April 17 after the game was postponed from March 28. Despite the cancellation, the squad still got to play against Fordham, defeating the Rams in the quarterfinals of the A-10 Championship.
Although the main tennis season typically takes place in the spring, one of the team’s biggest challenges this year was the inability to prepare during the fall semester. In a normal year, the team would have used the fall to train, build chemistry and participate in various tournaments from September to October.
But last fall, no players returned to campus since the slate was canceled, which created a situation this spring where Browning said the team was delayed in playing practice sets and matches against one another by several weeks. Instead, the team spent that time catching up on all the conditioning and training they’d missed.
Some new players on the team, including Wiesemann, said she’d never met anyone on the squad in person prior to spring, which also delayed the team in terms of creating chemistry early on.
But for some of the more experienced players on the team, including Nelson, the one silver lining from the virtual fall was the notion of growth through self-accountability. Nelson said the experience of knowing what to expect once the team got together put her at an “advantage” during the months she spent preparing.
“It was really on you, individually, to get yourself ready for the spring,” Nelson said. “You have to take full responsibility and full ownership of your game and your physical preparation, your mental preparation.”
The preparation paid off for Nelson as well as Wiesemann, who led the team with nine wins apiece in singles play. On the doubles side, the pair of Nelson and freshman Lindsay Thompson set the pace for the squad with eight wins.
As the squad looks ahead to a more normal season beginning this fall, Browning said several areas the team will focus on include mental toughness, shot selection and overall training. She said those efforts will only be aided by the team’s renewed access to outdoor spaces, namely the Mount Vernon campus, where the squad did not get to practice this year.
“There’s already so many ideas in my head about what we can do as far as conditioning, what we can do in terms of improving people’s footwork and just breaking down certain things, because we’ll have the opportunity to do one on ones more. So I’m just really looking forward to that this fall.”
Nuria Diaz contributed reporting.